Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew. I remember my grandfather saying to me that my â€œeyes were bigger than my stomachâ€. He was referring to the way Iâ€™d heap food on my plate and then be unable to eat everything. My eyes were bigger than my stomach.
Home remodeling projects can easily be underestimated. Diane and I shared last month about our plumbing issues. I thought we had a little leak, an air conditioning pan with a plugged drain. All we have to do is clean out the drain, right? And by the time it was raining in the master bathroom, wallpaper soaking and sagging, sheetrock being torn off the walls, ripping out old galvanized pipe to replace it with copper tubing, and three large sweaty men carrying old water heaters out of the atticâ€¦ at some point I realized I had seriously underestimated the project.
Iâ€™ve discovered that following Christ is a lot like underestimating a home remodeling project. When Christ says, â€œyoke is easy and His burden is lightâ€ (Matthew 11:30), He means it. Picking up the yoke is easy. But as we give more of ourselves to the Spirit, we find that the home remodeling requires a lot more work than we first thought. Turning away from our surface sins, sins we could easily see, was easy. Turns out there was wood rot underneath that we didnâ€™t know about, with termites happily munching away. Learning to lean on Christ, loving our enemies, turning from pride and materialismâ€¦ that requires more time and energy.
I think about those South Korean missionaries in Afghanistan from time to time; they didnâ€™t get a lot of media coverage, probably because Taliban fundamentalists executing peaceful Christians wasnâ€™t a topic the news media found interesting. The missionaries certainly found the task far more than they expected. They were beaten and threatened by gunpoint to convert to Islam or die. The pastor, Bae Hyung-kyu, was executed first, and his last words to the remaining missionaries were, â€œOvercome with faith.â€ Later, they executed another man, Shim Sung-min. They remaining 21 hostages, 18 of them women, were later freed, but only after the South Korean government agreed to ban further missionary work in Afghanistan.
You know who my compassion goes out to most? Not the pastor Bae Hyung-kyu or the missionaries; their eternal destination with the Lord awaits, where there is no pain or tears. My compassion goes out to the Afghan children that will now be raised by barbarian murderers instead of being exposed to the love and peace of Christ Jesus.
Q: What are Christian missions and who are missionaries?
Our lesson begins today at Matthew 9:35-38, and Jesus tells us why followers of Christ should spread the Good News.
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Jesus, of course, sets an example for us; Jesus is on the very first â€œmissionâ€ trip to spread the word that the Son of Man has come. Notice that Jesus went through all the towns and villages. It requires effort to spread the word; youâ€™ve got to get up off the sofa. Jesus does three things here â€“
– He teaches; what do the scriptures say? How shall we live?
– He preaches; this is different than teaching; the word can also be translated â€œheralding.â€ Itâ€™s an announcement of something important.
– And he heals. Taking care of the sick and wounded shows compassion on those who need it most.
The crowds were like sheep without a shepherd; those that have not heard the good news, that we can enter heaven without being perfect, that Jesus paid the price for us, are lost. Sometimes they know theyâ€™re lost; most of the time they donâ€™t. I know I didnâ€™t. I only know that now Iâ€™m found.
â€œThe harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.â€ I mentioned Afghanistan earlier, but there are many, many places where the good news hasnâ€™t been heard, or if it has been heard, the word is confused or distorted. When we went to Kenya a couple of year ago, one thing that struck me was the lack of bibles. A teacher from one of the other classes donated enough money to buy hundreds of Swahili bibles; they were almost devoured hungrily when we gave them away, people that had given their lives to Christ but were now left without knowing what Christ wanted from them. There are so few missionaries with so few resources, and the need is so great. Things havenâ€™t changed much in 2000 years; the size of the harvest is still huge, billions of people, yet so few people sharing the Word. Who owns the harvest, who is the Lord of the Harvest? And who are the workers in His field?
We are the workers. Fred and Joanna are on their way to Damascus in a couple of weeks; Michael & Aura are just back from Honduras; care to share what you saw there?
Once upon a time in our lives, we were called by Christ to follow Him. We experience the love and forgiveness and the peace and joy that comes with giving our lives to Christ. We grow, we become sanctified through Him, we become greater by becoming less. Then what? Think about this â€“ somebody went out of their way to share the joy of Christ with you at some point in your life. Your parents, a friend, an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, a stranger. Isnâ€™t about time you returned the favor and shared that joy with the lost? You are one of the workers in the field. You know the phrase, â€œthey pay isnâ€™t much, but the retirement benefits are out of this world.â€
Matthew 10 begins with Jesusâ€™ instructions to his twelve disciples. Not all of this is entirely applicable to us today; for instance, in verse 5 Jesus tells his disciples not to go among the Gentiles or in Samaria. Verse 6 tells them to stay among the lost sheep of Israel. Why the unusual instructions? Part of it was that the experience of the disciples here was limited; perhaps Jesus felt they were not yet equipped to witness among the Gentiles, especially since Jews and Gentiles didnâ€™t get along all that great. Also, time was limited here; Jesus had a mission that would end on Calvary, and in order to use his resources efficiently, Jesus limited this mission to Israel. Also, the Jews were Godâ€™s chosen; it only made sense for God to reach out to His chosen people first. I think we can learn from Jesusâ€™ instructions to use time and resources wisely. Itâ€™s also worth noting that it was only this first mission that was limited to Israel; later, Jesus himself went into Samaria and Jesus healed among the Gentiles. The Great Commission tells us to go to all nations.
In The Message, Matthew 10:5-8 says,
Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
We think of missions sometimes as going off to some far off land; but sometimes the most rewarding mission is right here in our own back yard.
What sort of response can we expect when weâ€™re on a mission? Matthew 10:16-23 –
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but those who stand firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. “
Apparently, sharing the gospel is hard. The instructions from Jesus now have more concrete instructions to us today. What do you think the phrase “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” means?
Matthew 10:24-33 â€“
“Students are not above their teacher, nor servants above their master. It is enough for students to be like their teacher, and servants like their master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
“Whoever publicly acknowledges me I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven.”
If sharing the gospel is hard, Jesus tells us why we should be reassured and comforted. Jesus warns us that we can expect persecution and danger when we proclaim from the roofs that Jesus Christ is Lord. Satan, after all, “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). When you are spreading the gospel, when you are witnessing, you are walking into the lionâ€™s den. Itâ€™s dangerous.
But do not be afraid. In Afghanistan, the pastor Bae Hyung-kyu discovered that Satan can destroy the bodyâ€¦ but Satan has no power over the soul. Evil men can destroy the bodyâ€¦ but evil men have no power over the soul. Only God has power over the soul.
As a Christian, remember this: you are a new creation. When you give your life to Christ, you are already dead. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Our earthly lives have been given up, and we have already begun our eternal lives. From an earthly perspective, weâ€™re confused; we think weâ€™re alive, and when we die, we go to heaven. Thatâ€™s wrong. From a heavenly perspective, weâ€™re dead. When weâ€™re born again, then we go to heaven. We canâ€™t live until we die.
One of my favorite songs on the radio is really, really odd, but I like really, really odd. I think itâ€™s all about missions. The Newsboys in their song, â€œWherever We Go,â€ sing â€“
Hands up, Holler back here
Let’s throw this party in gear
We brought the welcome mat
Wherever we go, that’s where the party’s at.
Yeah I know, they ended the sentence with a preposition. You know the song?
Hands up, holler back now
We don’t claim any know-how
We’re giving God all that
Wherever we go, that’s where the party’s at.
Wherever we go, the dumb get wise
And the crime rates drop and the markets rise
It’s a curious thing
But it’s just our thing
Bullies make nice, crooks repent
And the ozone layer shows improvement
It’s a curious thing
And it’s humbling
Wherever we’re led, all the Living Dead
Wanna leave their Zombie Mob
It’s a touching scene when they all come clean
God help us, we just love our job
Itâ€™s a great song, and it illustrates, I think, our lesson today. Itâ€™s shrewd and innocent, certainly, and says weâ€™re being led among the living dead, and once they hear the gospel, they want to leave their zombie mob, too. Just like us.
Once we realize that this life is temporary and real life is eternal, then Satan has no power over us. All he can do is kill us, but weâ€™re already dead. We live for Christ now. Why? Because He died so that we may live. God loves us so much that he gave us His son. So do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Our soul is worth more than many sparrows and the hairs on our head are numbered.
Is this scary? Does this make us afraid? To risk our earthly life, our material comforts? Recognize whatâ€™s at stake â€“ those around us without the love of Christ are dead. By risking our lives for them, weâ€™re following the example Jesus set for us. He, too, gave His life for us. Is it too much to ask that now our salvation is secure that we risk our temporary life so that others, too, may live? Somebody did it for us or we wouldnâ€™t be here today. The fear is understandable, but remember; the opposite of fear is faith. Faith is not believing that God can. Faith is knowing that God will.
It sounds from our lesson so far that we are called to share the gospel in unwelcome places, but Jesus tells us that He wants us to share our faith publicly. “Whoever publicly acknowledges me I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven.” But what about things weâ€™ve all been taught about respect, about peace and love and harmony and getting along and diversity and separation of church and state? If Jesus is always love and peace, then we should only share the gospel only when weâ€™re asked, right? If they donâ€™t want to hear it, as peaceful loving Christians we should keep our mouths shut so that we can all get along, right?
Thatâ€™s not what Jesus says. Remember, when weâ€™re sharing the Gospel among those who donâ€™t want to hear it, weâ€™re bringing the Living Water to those who are dead. We are to love our enemies; sharing the word of God can sometimes make enemies. If we have to choose between Jesus and peace, what do we choose? If we have to choose between Jesus and anything, what do we choose? Look at Matthew 10:34-39 –
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
” ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-lawâ€”
your enemies will be the members of your own household.’
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Jesus is quoting prophecy about the Messiah in Micah 7:6 which goes on to say
But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD,
I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.
Does this sound like the opposite impression of Jesus that our culture teaches us? That Jesus loves peace, heâ€™s passive and never raises a fuss? Jesus own words tell us differently. Jesus is indeed the king of peace, but it is His peace. People are to love people, but they are to love Him more. Sometimes that separates people. Iâ€™ve seen first hand, as Iâ€™m sure you have too, that talking about Jesus can drive people apart.
God does want us to have a good life, and God does want us to be happy, but he wants us to have goodness and happiness from an eternal perspective. Obedience to God brings goodness and happiness from an eternal perspective, but it may mean risking our comfort in this life. Is this risk worth it? Letâ€™s see what Jesus says in Matthew 10:40-42 â€“
“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”
Picking up your cross and following Jesus may mean a lot of hardship, may mean loss of comfort, may mean a loss of life. Does this mean we lose our joy? Now, we are joyous because we love Him who first loved us. Is it scary? Yes, certainly, but perfect love drives out fear. If we donâ€™t risk our lives, do we risk our salvation? No, we are still children of God. But if we want to be disciples of Jesus and grow in the Spirit, we must learn to set aside our fear and our comfort. To love our neighbor is to want to have them in heaven with us, and the only way for them to know the love of Jesus and His perfect sacrifice is for somebody to tell them.
I think that somebody is you and me.